Is there a difference between motivation and inspiration? I think most people assume that they are pretty much the same. To be honest, I was one of those people and in my ignorance, I would actually use the two terms interchangeably. However, my interest in goal setting led me to look into what these two terms actually mean and whether or not there is a difference between them. It turns out that there is a difference – and it’s not as small as you might think.
The Importance of Motivation and Inspiration
Before we get to the difference between them, we should touch on why they are important.
I am sure that you will agree that the importance of these two “impulses” (the term I use for what they are in nature) cannot be understated, whether there is a difference between them or not. In fact, I would go as far as to say that pretty much most human activity would grind to a halt without them. They are the carrot and the stick that move us forward, that push us to dream big, to have grand ideas and then to work tirelessly to make those ideas real.
Without motivation and inspiration, Da Vinci would not have painted the Mona Lisa, the Wright Brothers wouldn’t have taken flight and Steve Jobs wouldn’t have revolutionized tech. Most people wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning without either motivation or inspiration. Some people will leap out of bed, drawn to their work or tasks by inspiration (the carrot) while others will be forced from the warm folds of their beds by the motivation to earn money so that they may feed themselves and their kids, and pay for their mortgage and the BMW in the garage (the stick).
This “pull” and “push” impulse helps us get through life, spurring us on to finish ambitious projects, galvanizing us so that we can make it through our roughest days, and driving us to improve ourselves and our lives, and those of our loved ones around us.
So, Here’s the Difference Between Motivation and Inspiration
I briefly deal with motivation and inspiration, and the difference between them, in my book Plan, Achieve, Thrive: Successfully Achieve Your Goals With The GREATER2 Goal Achievement System. Here is an excerpt in which I detail the primary difference in the context of goal setting.
“Inspiration and Motivation are “two peas in a pod”, but according to Sam Taggart, founder of The D2D Experts (as quoted by Tom Popomaronis on entrepreneur.com),
“Motivation is a push factor. It’s an outside force that is compelling you to take action, even if you don’t necessarily want to. Inspiration, on the other hand, is more of a pull or driving force. It’s something that comes from within that gets us to proactively give our best effort. When someone is inspired, they’re with you for the long haul.”
This is correct in a very simplistic sense.
Getting a little more technical, Baumeister (in ” Toward a general theory of motivation: Problems, challenges, opportunities, and the big picture. Motivation and Emotion”) suggests that motivation equates to wanting change; in the words of Beata Souders, a change in “… behavior, thoughts, feelings, self-concept, environment, and relationships … Motivation is an internal process … (t)he essence of (which) is energized and persistent goal-directed behavior. When we are motivated, we move and take action” according to Beata Souders.
Inspiration, on the other hand, is “… a motivational state that compels individuals to bring ideas into fruition…” according to an article by Victoria C. Oleynick. It is the impetus that drives motivation. If you read your Motivational Visualization and feel energized and your head fills with visions of what could be, you become inspired to act to bring your visualization into reality. Inspiration is, therefore, the spark that ignites the fire of motivation.
In the words of the incomparable Zig Ziglar
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”
… [M]otivation is a […] fleeting mindset that tends to wear off over time. It is a powerful impulse that can launch you on the path towards your goal, but it tends to flag and eventually fade…
The best way to get motivated, however, is by achieving success. For our purposes, success would involve achieving your […] goals […]
Motivation is ideal for injecting energy into the process, which is translated into successful action. It gets the wheels turning… “
A Carrot and a Stick or a Single Impulse?
The experts seem to view motivation and inspiration slightly differently.
Some, like Sam Taggart, see motivation as a “stick” that pushes you forward, while inspiration is the “carrot” that draws you towards your goal.
Others see it as a single motivating impulse that morphs from inspiration (“… a motivational state that compels individuals to bring ideas into fruition …”) into motivation, which in turn provides the impetus to take action.
My opinion on this matter is that the way in which inspiration and motivation relate to one another is a synthesis of both as these two concepts are potentially complementary.
As a point of departure, I support the idea postulated by Souders and Oleynick that there is a single motivating impulse that “morphs” from inspiration to motivation. The initial impulse manifests as inspiration – a purely internal aspect of the motivating impulse that is tied to seeking change in the current situation. It is a swelling up of positivity and self-confidence that can then “fuel” motivation.
As the wave of inspiration crests, it becomes motivation, spurring you to take action in order to realize what it is that you are inspired to do.
Self-confidence and self-actuation will increase (bolster) the intensity of the inspiration and the ensuing motivation. For example, you will be more inspired to do something you are interested in or have experience with than would otherwise be the case. An artist will be ore inspired to paint a picture than fix a car (assuming they have never done the latter and have no interest in cars).
At this point, imagination also comes into play, allowing you to imagine the result you want to achieve and giving form to the outcome you envision. Both the confidence and the imagined success make the outcome you want to achieve seem attainable. This may be positive or negative in nature. Where you are motivated to do something you enjoy, you will imagine the sensations of potential fulfillment, engagement, excitement, and fun that will flow from taking the action you are being motivated to take. However, where you are motivated to do something you do not like doing, you will imagine the dire results that may flow from not taking the ensuing action. In both cases, your motivation impels you to start taking action in order to realize that outcome.
Supplementary to the above, I think that Taggart’s idea of inspiration being a “pull” and motivation a “push” is a nice and simple way for encapsulating what the basic underlying impulse is and how it changes through the process, as we have discussed above. Let’s look at this idea in a little more detail.
In short, inspiration embodies the sensation of a “pull” to affect change in one’s life, and as you may know from experience – if you have ever thought about such things – it does “feel” that way from a subjective standpoint. As such, inspiration acts like the proverbial “carrot”, filling your mind with sensations of what is possible to excite or scare you so that your motivation “engine” can fire up.
As you will notice, inspiration can be positive or negative; the exhilarating inspiration experienced by an artist is quite different from the morbid inspiration felt by the office worker who really does not want to get up in the morning and go to work. In the case of the former, the inspiration is characterized by a desire to affect change through creation. On the other hand, the slumbering office worker’s inspiration would be characterized by a dread of the potential outcome were they not to get up and go to work.
As you will know from your own experience, inspiration lasts only for a moment. However, it jumpstarts your motivation impulse, which lasts longer and can be thought of as a “push” impulse as thoughts, feelings, imaginings, as well as external stimuli, build momentum within that will ultimately be converted into action. And although motivation lasts much longer than inspiration, as stated in the quote from Zig Ziglar in the excerpt above, it too fades and degrades and so must be regularly bolstered.
As an aside, it’s an extremely difficult task to discern exactly where inspiration ends and motivation starts, and what exactly happens in your mind when that happens. What is more, I have not been able to find any definitive scientific definitions of how motivation and inspiration relate to one another. For now, there are lots of opinions and it seems that it’s open season on ideas. The above idea is my own postulation based on my own experience and the little scientific authority I can find.
But how do the mechanics of inspiration and motivation impact on how they can be used in practice?
Motivation and Inspiration in Practice
Inspiration would seem to be initiated by one or more stimuli; an external sensory stimulus like something you see, hear, feel or taste, or an internal stimulus like a memory or thought. Inspiration is largely automatic and, assuming we agree on what inspiration is as described above, little can be done to initiate or control it.
This is not so with motivation, however, and as the initial impulse transmutes into motivation, it becomes far more malleable and can be enhanced with supportive sensory stimulation; pictures, words, music, videos and so on. This stimulation will excite your imagination, allowing you to visualize yourself achieving the end you desire.
As with many things, what motivates you may not motivate me. It’s up to you to learn what stimuli motivate you most effectively and then to learn how best to deploy that knowledge. We all have our own “rhythm”, our own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. So why should motivation be any different? You must find your own “taste” for motivation.
When you want to achieve a goal, for example, test various media (music, video, words) to find out which motivates you most. Try recalling pleasurable or exciting memories, or visualizing the result you want to achieve. You might also test out how motivated you are at different times of the day and in different places and situations. Be sure to record what works and what doesn’t.
Where can Inspiration and Motivation Be Applied?
Both inspiration and motivation are essential in many of the core and soft skills. This impulse can make a world of difference in areas such as goal achievement, time management, networking, and many more. Without inspiration and motivation, you will struggle to achieve your goals, your daily routines will crumble and your networking will be half-hearted. They fuel our desire to achieve more and to squeeze more out of life.
The difference between motivation and inspiration may be slight but understanding how these two facets of the motivating impulse function can help us harness the potential they have stored within them. Figuring out how you can inspire and motivate yourself can allow you to turn this powerful driving impulse on and off, supercharging your ability to get things done and to attain the success you seek.